Old-Time Southern Recipes: Food From the Past
Occasionally interesting little gems can turn up in used bookstores or garage sales. Recently, my Mother-in-law picked up an interesting little vintage cookbook at her church yard sale. Printed in 1938 and containing recipes from one hundred years previously, the book is a showcase of fine, early-nineteenth century Virginia cooking.
Its full title is Cooking of The Old Dominion Prior to 1838, and it was printed by Richmond Hotels, Inc. which ran several old establishments, and the recipes were collected by Aileen Brown and Gertrude Drinker. One of the peculiar qualities of the recipes in the book is that they often make a huge number of portions. The introduction explains: "let these present day cooks recall that the cook of the plantation days was daily called upon to serve guests in a number which would tax the capacity of many modern hotels." The recipes antiquity also means that exact temperatures and measurements often weren't used. So, while the recipes themselves are fascinating, they will require considerable tinkering to adapt them to a modern, family table.
Here are a few of the recipes that characterize the book:
[This recipe sounds like it would make far too dry a dough to me.]
One quart of flour, one heaping teaspoonful of salt, two tablespoonfuls of butter and lard mixed, enough milk to make a stiff dough (about one cup). Work the dough a little, then beat on biscuit block (or biscuit break) until it blisters; roll out to the size you wish then cut with a tin cutter; stick with a fork. Bake in a moderate oven. Serve hot or cold.
It is not beating hard that makes the biscuit nice, but the regularity of the motion. Beating hard, the old cooks say, kills the dough.
[This recipe follows a little history of the stew that claims it's from Virginia. Several states would like to claim this delicious, meaty stew as their own. My trusted recipes are Brunswick Stew and Vegetarian Brunswick Stew. I think I'll stick to those instead of using ten large squirrels, despite tradition!]
Stew ten large squirrels, or same weight in hens, until the meat leaves the bone. Remove bones and skin. Then add one quart of butter beans, three pints of tomatoes, two large onions, one quart of okra, an old ham bone, and six potatoes. Season with salt, red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, one-half pound of butter, and add one quart cut corn one-half hour before finished. Boil all until it is well-done and serve hot. Takes about six hours to cook. It should be thick like a stew and not thin like a soup.
[You can't go wrong with chicken, milk, butter, and eggs. Your heart won't be particularly pleased, though.]
While four young chickens, cut up as for frying, and favored with "bundles of parsley and thyme," are gently stewing upon the fire, the housewife will make ready a thin batter. Take ten eggs; to these add a quart of rich milk, a quarter of a pound of melted butter, flour, pepper, and salt. When the chickens are nearly done, immerse the pieces in the batter, pour all into a deep dish and bake quickly. The remainder of the stew, after taking out the herbs, may be used as the basis for a white gravy. The flavor of the time, elusive and pungent, may intrigue your guest, but it cannot fail to please his palette.